UT will be more reliant on UTMail following Blackboard to Canvas transition

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Although UT’s email services have been evolving since the 1990s, UT will become more reliant on UTMail following the University’s transition from Blackboard to Canvas.

It is not mandatory for students to create a UTMail account, the current email system offered by UT, even though email is officially designated the University’s primary mode of communication. On Canvas, students will only be able to submit documents and collaborate with classmates and professors via Canvas’ Google Drive feature using their UTMail accounts. 

According to Dennis Klenk, project coordinator for Information Technology Services, UTMail is a service of Google Apps for Education which provides free service for educational institutions and their current and former students, faculty and staff. He said making it a requirement for students to utilize UTMail on Canvas will increase the functionality of Canvas and protect students’ privacy.

“It’s possible for Canvas to integrate with public Gmail, but if you think about what the scope of Canvas is, potentially dealing with a lot of personal, identifiable information … those kinds of things need protection and privacy,” Klenk said. “Some of those privacy terms and conditions are in the contract with Google. Once you get outside of that, into public Google, those terms and conditions are different and may not apply.”

Esther Raizen, associate dean of research and chair of technology services’ Operational Information Technology Committee, said in 2010 UT looked into developing a relationship with Google in order to establish an email system for students and faculty that could address issues of capacity and the longevity of the accounts that existed with the previous system, the University Mailbox System.

“In terms of the Google and Gmail history, there were two issues,” Raizen said. “The capacity — how much storage space one could use and how fast the transmission is — became more and more critical when people were sending and storing sound files and large attachments, and the ability to keep the accounts for life. Previously, student accounts internal to UT would be closed shortly after they left UT.” 

According to Klenk, there are currently 104,373 UTMail accounts in existence, 25 percent of which are registered to alumni. He said the contract with Google ensures a lack of advertisements, increased privacy and an increased storage capacity. UTMail provides users with 30 GB of storage, while regular Gmail offers only 15 GB.

Journalism sophomore Shadan Larki said she uses her public Gmail address instead of a UTMail address in order to create a lasting personal image.

“I’ve had my Gmail for so long, that’s how people see me,” Larki said. “As a student journalist, I want my brand to be consistent. I could switch to UTMail, but it seems like more of a hassle than it’s worth. I guess I would switch over to UTMail if it was necessary for academic purposes. I would rather not, but if they make me then I’ll do what I have to do.” 

Undeclared sophomore Catherine Mear said she prefers her personal Yahoo account to UTMail. 

“I just forward everything to my one, regular email address,” Mear said. “I’ve always had a Yahoo account and I don’t really want to change that.”

Klenk, who helped negotiate the contract with Google, said UTMail is provided at no cost to the University. He said an outside company, SADA Systems, was hired to facilitate the transition to UTMail and create the pages students see when signing up for an account. Terri Shrode, associate business contracts administrator, said the contract between UT and Google was finalized in February 2011 and is set to expire in 2015, with a potential for renewal.

Klenk said certain departments operate using other email systems provided by the University, though students do not have access to these other systems. He said this separation of services has been changing, and there has been a consolidation to UTMail and a system called Austin Exchange Messaging Service, which is primarily a Microsoft Exchange-based system

“An email may look like it’s on the UTMail system but it may not be, it could just be an alias of one of the other systems,” Klenk said.